Our second visit to Old Trafford in a week saw a 2-0 defeat against David Moyes’ under pressure Manchester United side. Despite United not looking completely convincing and the statistics showing that the Swans had 61% of the possession, we were undone by 2 early second half goals from Antonio Valencia and Danny Welbeck.
The Swans travelled to Manchester encouraged by an excellent 2-1 win over United last Sunday in the FA Cup. However, this game was always going to be more difficult, particularly given the fact that we were missing 8 players through injury and had only 3 further senior players on the substitutes’ bench. When a club of our financial means is missing the likes of Michel Vorm, Michu and Pablo Hernandez, to name just a few, we were always going to be up against it when facing a side of United’s pedigree.
The team selected by Michael Laudrup was as expected, with the only surprise being the inclusion of Jordi Amat ahead of Chico Flores in the heart of defence. Whether this based on form or purely down to squad rotation is a decision Laudrup probably won’t disclose. United also had injuries to key players for this game, notably Robin Van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Marion Fellani, Ashley Young and Phil Jones, however their greater resources meant that they still had the luxury of fielding a side packed with seasoned international footballers.
We started the game brightly, with Leon Britton and Jose Canas working hard in front of our back four and Jonjo Shelvey prompting in midfield. Poor old Jonjo had to suffer boos from the home crowd throughout the game due to his time spent at United’s rivals Liverpool. To his credit, the abuse didn’t seem to affect him, especially given that he also endured the same stick last weekend!
The good early work from the Swans was disrupted when Jose Canas fell heavily and was forced to leave the field after just 17 minutes on the clock. With only inexperienced midfielder Lee Lucas on the bench, Laudrup decided to send on defender Chico Flores as substitute, moving fellow countryman Jordi Amat into defensive midfield. We Swans fans would not have expected to see Amat playing there, yet showed that he is comfortable on the ball and did OK is a position that is largely unfamiliar to him.
United’s 18 year old forward Adnan Januzaj, rested last weekend, was the home side’s creative force in the first half, playing in the number 10 position behind Danny Welbeck. The young flyer delivered several testing balls into the danger area, before curling a great free kick onto the cross bar, with Gerhard Tremmel clearly beaten.
Vidic, Darren Fletcher and Patrice Evra then all went close in the opening 45 minutes and Welbeck should have put the hosts ahead when a clever interchange between Valencia and Rafael led to the Brazilian finding the unmarked England striker, who curled a shot wide of the far post from 10 yards, when it looks like he was destined to open United’s account.
Jonjo Shelvey looked the most likely Swansea player to do something, dragging a shot wide and taking any opportunity to have a shot on goal, however, it was honours even at half time, with a more than credible first half performance from the away side.
David Moyes showed clever tactical awareness at half time, by encouraging Januzaj to move to the flanks, taking advantage of Angel Rangel’s natural inclination to push forward. The Belgium-born attacker quickly tested Rangel, whipping in a superb cross, which Kagawa headed back across goal. Antonio Valencia found himself in enough space to slot the ball home, with goalkeeper Tremmel having no chance. 1-0 to the home side, with 47 minutes on the clock.
Just 12 minutes later, Januzaj was at it again, this time on the right. His curling centre was cleared as far as Evra, whose shot was flicked in by Welbeck for his 9th goal of the season and 6th in as many league games. With a two-goal cushion, United’s confidence was restored and there looked no way back for the Swans.
Chris Smalling missed a golden chance when he somehow volleyed over from five yards, following Kagawa’s cross. Kagawa was then wasteful when, after a swift break, he dribbled around Tremmel but saw his effort brilliantly cleared off the line by the ever dependable Leon Britton.
The Swans threatened towards the end of the game, especially when Pozeulo switched inside to support Wilfried Bony, with Alvaro Vasquez taking up a position on the right wing. Unfortunately, the game was over by this point and any goal would have been a meagre consolation.
In summary, we came to Old Trafford with a severely weakened side and had a go. I’m not one to over react as a rule and will always support and encourage my team, however, despite our extensive injury list and the fact that we are in Europe, there is no getting away from the fact that our form in the League is not good at the moment. We have only picked up 6 points from our last 6 games, which makes us bottom of the table based on results over this period.
With Jose Canas adding to the list of injured players, we now have 9 out. It is possible that a couple with be back for the game against Spurs next Sunday, but we clearly cannot carry on like this and need fresh legs. I know the January transfer window can be hit or miss, but I don’t think we have too much choice as our place amongst the elite of English football is too precious to risk. Come on Mr Laudrup and the Board of Directors, try and get a couple of signings in!
The teams and player marks (out of 10):
Swansea City: Tremmel 6, Rangel 5, Davies 5, Amat 6, Williams (Captain) 7, Canas NA (Chico 6), Britton 7, Shelvey 5 (Vasquez 5), Routledge 5, Pozeulo 5, Bony 6. Unused substitutes: Cornell, Taylor, Richards, Lucas, Donnelly
Swans’ man of the match: Leon Britton
Manchester United: De Gea 6, Rafael 7, Evra 7 (Buttner 6), Smalling 7, Vidic 7, Carrick 6, Fletcher 7, Kagawa 6, Welbeck 7 (Hernandez NA), Valencia 7, Januzaj 8. Unused substitutes: Lindegaard, Giggs, Cleverley, Zaha, Lingard
United man of the match: Adnan Januzaj
Scorers: Antonio Valencia 47 and Danny Welbeck 59
Possession stats: Swans 61%, United 39% (Who said statistics don’t lie?)
The match referee:
Chris Foy 7. Mr Foy issued just 2 yellow cards and no reds, with the unlucky punters being Angel Rangel and Wilfried Bony. Despite being eager to blow the whistle when a United player dropped to the ground, he referred the game reasonably well. There was a hint of off side for the first goal, though this was probably one for the linesman to spot rather than the referee.
The attendance was a colossal 75,035. Typing in an attendance figure likes this makes you think how much we are punching above our weight some times. Come on the Swans, keep battling!